Citizen initiatives protected

State Sens. Mandy Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Rod Smith, D-Alachua, talk during the Senate session on Wednesday in Tallahassee. Smith said the state constitution is the "laughingstock of the country."

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, May 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 11:48 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Florida lawmakers decided Tuesday against trying to make it harder for voters to change the state constitution.
The Senate voted 21-17 to reject a proposal designed to prevent citizen initiatives like the ones last year imposing a constitutional requirement to reduce school class sizes and regulate transportation of pregnant pigs.
Proponents argued that the constitution is so sacred it should only be amended to deal with fundamental citizen rights and the basic function of government.
But opponents argued that voters needed a way to bypass the Legislature and governor when they fail to heed citizens' desires. They said the restriction would give the Supreme Court even more power than it already has to dictate which constitutional amendments go before voters.
"I think we're limiting the public's ability to participate in the government process," said Sen. Minority Leader Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. "I think that's the wrong thing to do, and I think there will be a backlash."
This marks the second consecutive year that legislators have tried and failed to change the constitutional amendment process. Last year, lawmakers debated increasing the margin by which amendments would have to pass to become law.
They're frustrated by the increasing frequency - and success - of citizen-initiated amendments with sweeping economic repercussions in Florida, including a restriction on net fishing, a demand for the state to build a high-speed rail line and the mandate to reduce the number of students in public school classes.
Some lawmakers argued the constitution should be kept "pure," not cluttered with issues better handled by changes to state law.
"We've literally made our constitution the laughingstock of the country," Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, said.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, said it's too easy for citizen initiatives to make it on the ballot. The process requires anyone seeking an amendment to obtain hundreds of thousands of signatures and pass approval of the Supreme Court, which considers whether the ballot language is clear and deals with only one subject.
"Right now you can buy your way onto the constitution," Cowin said, referring to initiative sponsors who have hired people to gather signatures and design ad campaigns.
But Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said the Supreme Court would have even more latitude to reject ballot proposals. "To do this is a very serious, serious mistake," he said.
The measure defeated Tuesday would have asked voters next year to approve a constitutional amendment limiting future changes.
Cowin, Smith and Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, voted for the bill.

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